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American Consumerism: an Analysis of John Updike's A & P - Essay Example

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On American Consumerism: An Analysis of John Updike’s A & P A surface reading of John Updike’s A & P reveals a story about a young man’s impulse to take a stand and face the consequences of his decision. However, beyond the usual understanding of A & P being a “coming of age narrative” is the analysis that John Updike’s masterpiece tells more about an individual’s struggle in a consumerist society…
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American Consumerism: an Analysis of John Updikes A & P
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American Consumerism: an Analysis of John Updike's A & P

Since the story is published in the 1960’s, it gives us a picture of a conservative society where people adhere to traditional values and norms. In those days, conforming to the standard appearance and behavior was necessary, especially to middle class families who aspire for social equality through the American dream of typically owning a house, driving a car, and buying enough goods. Adding to this set-up is the industrial development which allowed grocery store chains like A & P to dominate and offer packaged consumer goods around the country. It is this typical middle-class setting in the 1960s which establishes the internal conflict of a young man against his society. In the story, the ultimate act of Sammy to quit his job represents non-conformity to a social structure that is based on commoditization of goods and perpetuation of conservative values. In Sammy’s words, the setting of the story points to an area “right in the middle of town” where “you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices ". ...
As such, Sammy becomes part of this materialistic environment which deals with people purchasing goods and individuals finding meaning on things. Because of this, it is no surprise that the narrator himself is inclined to also objectify the things and people around him. At first, he describes the empty store as a “pinball machine” and searches for the girls show up, as if to find the objects of his attraction. Meanwhile, he labels other customers as “sheep” and describes a girl’s rear as a “can” which means that he compares people to things and animals. In Sammy’s eyes, people lose their humanity once they enter the confines of A & P. He sees the girls inside as mere sex objects, viewing them in the same way as customers choose their products. He judges the girls based solely on their physical features in the same way as customers judge a product by its package. Like a consumer who judges a product based on commercials, Sammy is also fascinated by the typical standards of beauty in media advertisements. For Sammy, old and less attractive customers are worthy of his mockery – labeling them as “a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows”, classifying them “sheep pushing their carts down the aisle”, and calling them “house slaves in pin curlers”. Apparently, this view women also mirrors to what Hatcher (1997) believes that Sammy’s character reveals his biased thoughts that it is all right for the young girls to walk around the store in their bathing suits, but other women, ‘women with six children and varicose veins’, should put on some clothes before they get out of their cars. On the other hand, it is clear that the nineteen year old Sammy sees attractiveness ... Read More
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